Boehner's Speeches: A Play for Speaker

House Minority Leader John Boehner gave a foreign-policy speech Tuesday at the American Legion National Convention, delivering what's being billed as a major policy address for the second time in as many weeks and preempting President Obama's 15-minute televised speech tonight commemorating the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

Boehner criticized the critics of the surge strategy--which, quite notably, included President Obama when he served in the U.S. Senate and ran for president in 2008--and praised it as a success:

Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results. One leader in the U.S. House of Representatives declared the surge a failure before it was even implemented ... Today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated--but progress. And I want to thank President Obama for setting aside his past political rhetoric and recognizing the importance of the surge and the diplomatic agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki.

On Afghanistan, Boehner warned against backing away:

I support our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, but the president must do more to emphasize his commitment to ensuring its success rather than focusing on arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal. And he must also place a greater emphasis on ensuring successful implementation of both the military and civilian components of his strategy.

Using campaign promises as a yardstick to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground.

But much like his economic speech last week, in which he called for the president to fire his team of economic advisers, the specific content of Boehner's speech may not have been as important as its scope and its timing.

Boehner made this speech as the prospects of a GOP House takeover loom imminent; Boehner has worked to obstruct the Democratic agenda since the Democratic takeover of 2006, and he's now transitioning into a mode of policy-making, one that sets him up as a Republican counterweight to the president--because if Republicans take over the House, that's what the new Speaker will be. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have seniority, but he's not an energetic, stump-speech kind of guy. The Speaker of the House will be.

But the next Speaker won't necessarily be Boehner. The other pole of Republican power in the House is Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and if Republicans take over, a heated race for Speaker could result, with Cantor and Boehner showing it down at the end.

Cantor is closely aligned with Rep. Paul Ryan, the rising economic-policy star of the GOP; and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the recruitment chairman of the GOP's House campaign committee. Rep. Pete Sessions, the chairman of the campaign committee, meanwhile, is a Boehner ally.

Cantor, Ryan, and McCarthy will soon release a book they co-wrote. The book is called "Young Guns"; it identifies those three on the cover as "the next generation of conservative leaders." From the publisher's description:

These Young Guns of the House GOP--Cantor (the leader), Ryan (the thinker), and McCarthy (the strategist)--are ready to take their belief in the principles that have made America great and translate it into solutions that will make the future even better, solutions that will create private sector jobs, maximize individual freedom, and establish a better world for our children.

Yes, Cantor is described as "the leader." If that's not foretelling, I don't know what is. The book will likely entail a media tour. Here's a promotional ad.

Boehner's speeches, in effect, are getting him out ahead of that publicity Cantor will reap. If not an actual race, the image race for Speaker appears to be fermenting.